A Business Technology Place

Automating processes reshapes the middle class?

It’s no secret.

Millions of technology professionals go to work each day with the goal to remove costs from business by automating manual human processes. Technology based automation scales larger, costs less, and works faster than human labor. But as technology workers, we don’t usually think about the employment threat all our work creates because it’s our own jobs that depend on accomplishing the work.

This week Illah Nourbakhsh wrote about the burgeoning robot middle-class in the MIT Technology Review. He poses the questions, “So how do we deal with the impending mass migration of robots into our middle class?” The question almost seems invalid or nonsensical. Can we group robots or software with people as part of a societal classification? The point is that robots, machinery, and software programs are taking the place of human members by way of their contribution to our society.

A new middle class?

Do we think about employment loss of societal replacement when we go through self-checkout kiosks at retail outlets and grocery stores? What about at a printing facility where a single digital press operator can do the job that three people once did with offset presses? What about machines that build electronics in assembly line layouts.

It’s not just limited to robots and hardware. Software processes help automate and reduce human intervention as well. Just this week we produced software to automate some back office processes. What once took someone an hour to do now takes 10 seconds. Welcome new back office team member.

We depend on the equipment to help us through daily activities. I think that in general we welcome the advancements that technology brings us. Automation soon becomes the norm. Our dependence and expectations are reshaped. We interact with both human and technology every day.

Our middle class today is vastly different than it was 10 year ago.

Many types of jobs have been eliminated while other new jobs have been created. The next 10 years certainly will continue that trend. New degrees and courses of study are created in the college and universities around the country. New job descriptions are made each year.

What shape and force will all this technology automation have on the middle class in the future? Is there a larger impact to society that shrinks the middle class and forces a wider gap between the wealthy upper class and those struggling to make ends meet? Does all the automation reduce the number of high paying middle class jobs and replace them with entry level and lower paying jobs?

The need for computer programmers and those with ability to program logic and program automation will be in demand for some time. But at what point can robots start to program automation themselves? One thing is clear to me. To stay competitive for jobs, we must continue to sharpen our skills and learn throughout our working career. Maybe the challenge is to stay one step ahead of the automation that nipping at our heels.

One final thought: If non human members can be a contributing member of the middle class, I wonder if we can get them to pay taxes?